There's been some mumbling on local foodie chat sites about steak houses, and what about Al's, anyway, yaddayaddayadda. Well, here's a few words on Al's and why it's so traditional, it's probably actually modern and I'm not hip enough to realize it.
There's been some mumbling on local foodie chat sites about steak houses, and what about Al's, anyway, yaddayaddayadda. Well, here's a few words on Al's and why it's so traditional, it's probably actually modern and I'm not hip enough to realize it.
Picky about chocolate chip cookies? I can sympathize. I pretty much avoid the commerical ones, feeling that they shouldn't be that crisp. I never got in the habit of making them at home, having kids who grooved on peanut butter cookies instead, and I was happy with that. And I went through a two-year period of serious brownie investigation after they left home. Perhaps that's what led me to the recipe today.
This is from Brenda Leong of B. Patisserie in San Francisco. I found the recipe a while back in Food and Wine magazine, and tried it as something to bring to the polls with me when I worked as an election judge.They are, quite simply, the best chocolate cookies I've ever had. I've made them with toasted pecans in them, and, for the knowing, with black walnuts. Like truffles, black walnuts are one of those musky tastes that some people find abhorrent. Years ago, a friend of mine, a New Englander living on Long Island, insisted he loved nuts and would love them. So I sent some. He gently, tactfully, told me that he thought they'd gone bad. I sent another batch, this time from Hammons, the biggest provider of the nuts in the world. I knew they'd be fresh. Same report from the gent. I just let the whole matter go. His family grew cranberries - perhaps his palate had been marred.
The batter needs to be chilled - the recipe called for an hour in the freezer, but I just cover it and put it in the fridge for at least a couple of hours. Make today, bake tomorrow, if that's your pleasure. But there is one step I would urge you to comply with. Line your baking sheets with parchment. Years ago when I was a penny-pinching single mom, if I had been able to find baking parchment, I would have considered it a extravagance to be passed up. I'm sure greased and floured pans would work here. But the parchment makes these so much easier to work with. I crumple the parchment up before putting it on the baking sheet - it wants to roll, of course. Then when the cookies are done, if I will need the baking sheet again, I slide the paper and cookies off onto the counter to cool. They're too soft to go directly on the rack. When they're completely cool, they'll often just scoot off - before that, they're very gooey. Bonus: The cookie sheets don't need to be washed afterwards.
CHOCOLATE BROWNIE COOKIES
1 pound (16 oz.) semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. flour, sifted
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 12-oz. bag semisweet chocolate chips
In a large heatproof bowl (glass, metal) set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter. Stir occasionally, until smooth, and set aside.
In another large bowl, beat together the eggs and the sugar until they're thick and pale - a handheld mixer is the easiest way to do this, but if necessary, you can use a stand mixer. On medium speed with the handheld, it'll take about 5 minutes. Beat in the salt and vanilla. . Use a rubber spatula and fold in the chocolate, then, together, the flour and baking powder. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Cover and chill the batter - if you are hoping for it to chill quickly, use a flat baking pan like a 9" square. Figure on at least an hour - less if you use the freezer. I've kept it overnight, although it's more difficult to work with when it's that cold.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. (See above.) Scoop out dough that's about 2 tablespoons' worth - one of those round measuring spoons that's heavy metal helps, but soon you will be able to eyeball it. Moisten your hands, and roll the dough itnto a roughly-shaped ball. Ignore what they resemble at this point and place them about 2 1/2 to 3 inches apart on the parchment.
Bake until dry on the edges and crackled on top. Start checking around 10 minutes - most of mine in my oven take about 13. Do not put directly on racks when done, but let cool at least 10 minutes. (You may slide the parchment directly onto your kitchen counter if the counter is heat-tolerant.)
I get about 60 cookies out of this - but I admit I tend to make them a little smaller - they're rich, and that makes more to share with friends!
No glamorous low-light idiosyncratic menu place this time. Sunrise Family Restaurant, whose sign says Sunrise Pancake House, sits on the northbound side of North Lindbergh, just below where the debris of Northwest Plaza sits, downcast and waiting for whatever cavalry can rescue it. Sunrise, on the other hand, is often possessed of a near-full parking lot and plenty of comfortably dressed diners. Sweatshirts and jeans are de rigeur here this time of year, either with work boots or athletic shoes. Folks come here to be fed, not to be Seen.
They do all three meals, but I went for breakfast - you're on your own if you're after fried walleye or meatloaf or pork tenderloin. (Or a salad or a hamburger, but you can get that anywhere, now, can't you?) Family owned and casual to the max, the silverware and the chairs all pretty well match, but the coffee mugs are, probably deliberately, a collection from a garage sale, totally random - note photo below. Service, however, is not at all random.. Attentive employees fly around the room with coffee pots and checks and smiles.
Despite the word Pancake, which appears on the sign in front of the building, pancakes are only a small part of breakfast. Sunrise is more egg-centric in its approach to morning food, giving plenty of combination plates, omelets and skillet breakfasts. And for the pancake-curious, as I was, you can opt for a couple of pancakes instead of toast. The menu calls them small - they're about 5" in diameter. I checked them out that way, and that was when I realized that there's real butter in those packets, not the faux stuff. Good, tender, fluffy 'cakes - although it's not maple syrup, despite the menu description.
And that's about my last complaint. The cream is real half and half, and while the coffee isn't strong enough to encourage upper torso hair follicles, it's obvious that the coffee maker is regularly scrubbed vigorously, no sour or stale notes.
The Popeye omelet takes the usual spinach-and-cheese a step farther by including bacon in it. That's a good idea, and the bacon's flavor plays well with the spinach, both of them being stirred into the eggs before the omelet is cooked. Not so handsome, perhaps, as the traditional French method, but pretty darn tasty even before you find the Swiss cheese tucked in the middle. And what about the home fried potatoes? Ah, yes. Real potatoes, not frozen shreds, thinly sliced and pan-fried. Even without the onions I'm always partial to, these are tasty, crying out for a bit of egg yolk to dip a forkful into.
Metalmouths are catered to at Sunrise, no matter how beatific an image the name implies. Who else has a jalapeno omelet? I didn't go there, but I did try the fiesta skillet. Those potatoes are the base, and they're topped with diced onions, tomatoes, and green peppers, all sauteed, and what's called tango taco meat. That's seasoned chunks of ground beef, and it's topped with eggs, over easy at my request, and shreds of cheese. The vegetable serving is generous, the meat is spicy, and there's sour cream and salsa to add as desired. A special tip of the hat to the biscuit which was warm, tender but not falling apart when touched, a fine specimen. There's biscuits and gravy for those who hanker for it.
Lindbergh is divided there, so you need to approach from the south; be prepared.
Simple, honest food. No fusion, no no foam, no fussiness. Worth remembering
Sunrise Family Restaurant
3500 N. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Ann
Breakfast & Lunch daily, Dinner Tues.-Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair
Breakfast entrees: $4-$7
One of my oldest friends - as in "long-time", not "ancient" - friends lives in a village-has-become-suburb of Cardiff, Wales. When I visit her, not nearly often enough, I admit, the phrase "...some tea and we'll have a nice gossip, then" often occurs. A chat, whether at a kitchen table or on a sofa, long, and relaxed, is what she means, not tales murmured behind the hand about scandalous neighbors.
"Shirley Valentine" has that feeling. The one-woman show from Dramatic License Productions is about a Liverpudlian in the post-Beatle years of the early to mid 1980's. She's fallen into the rut of letting life just happen to her. Shirley Valentine Bradford is a middle-class housewife, perhaps even lower-middle, with a husband of the sort who demands his evening meal be on the table when he steps foot on the doormat. (Dangerous, eh wot?) Shirley speaks wistfully of wanting to drink wine where the grapes are grown, sipping a glass, then gulping, as she cooks.
Teresa Doggett is Shirley, whose monologue is addressed to the wall - as in, "I might as well be talking to the wall." But there's far more intimacy in Doggett's Shirley than an impersonal slab of plasterboard can appreciate. She pulls the whole audience in, not just women, confiding and explaining and self-deprecating and mourning. And charming along the way. It's an intimate performance, helped along by the small venue. This isn't Doggett's first experience with Shirley; she played her several years ago at Stray Dog Theatre, and it's a polished performance. (Doggett also works as a costumer at several companies around town, and did her own, perfectly off-kilter, wardrobe for this.)
One could make the argument that this play, with its theme of a woman awakening to her own power, is dated. Playwright Willy Russell generally seems to understand women rising to their own worth - his first big hit was "Educating Rita", another play turned into a film, as was "Shirley". And yet it's universal - this was one of my late husband's favorite plays, perhaps because he had three daughters. But opening night, there were plenty of murmured editorial noises from the rows behind me, all definitely women.
Good work from Doggett, of course, director Lee Ann Matthews and all the crew who managed to put the set together in a week. And, yes, she is actually cooking in that first scene. It's not sound effects and Smell-O-Rama.
Dramatic License Productions
through March 16
What a great example of How Things Ought To Be Done he was. It really won't be the same without Herb.
I am so sick of this winter that it warms me up just to think about this. It's time for the annual vertical Norton tasting at Stone Hill in Hermann.
Uncommon pair-ups are not so uncommon now - i.e., the Thai-Japanese menus and the Korean-burger mashup that's thriving out in Creve Coeur - but here's a new one. Spare No Rib is taking no prisoners on Gravois Avenue in south St. Louis. Barbecued ribs and tacos? Oh, why not?
Actually, the menu is a little wider than that, but not much. A couple of salads, some sandwiches, a decent beer list and hand-made (I'm sorry, but "hand-crafted" sounds like they're using a loom or a lathe) cocktails. Guacamole, of course, and good stuff it is, chunky and fresh, served at a temp that makes me think it was made to order. A little hit of heat, but mostly avocado, onion, a little tomato, some cumin and fresh chips. Those excellent chips, thin, warm and salted, also come with the two house salsas. And salsas they are, rather than the fresh, choppped vegetables of a pico de gallo. The yellow-beige one is roasted yellow peppers, deeply vegetal, a dish to offer to anyone who thinks there's no distinctive flavor to a ripe yellow pepper, and almost creamy in the mouth. The one that's addictive, however, is made of smoked tomatoes and other vegetables. The smokiness definitely isn't out of a chipotle can, as one bite will prove.This is like eating barbecue, utterly addictive and making it devilishly hard not to fill up on it and the chips. Yes, a moderate amount of heat with it.
These are a step up, maybe two, from the Cherokee Street tacos. Nothing wrong with most of those guys, of course, but expect something different. For example, cachete, which is beef cheek. Think of two soft corn tacos with the tender meat much like a short rib, but richer - that's cachete at SNR. Very beefy in flavor, and with a sploosh of that yellow pepper salsa. Carnitas, the nuggets of pork were tender, too, nicely un-greasy and, as with the cachete, generously served and a nicely biting red sauce atop. Of the three I tried, the fish taco came in third - mild, lightly breaded and fried, but I was hoping for the crunchy cabbage of the Baja style and these wore chopped peppers and a green, very mild sauce. For St. Louis, which frequently wants fish that doesn't taste like fish, they'd work well. Me, I prefer a little more character to it.
Dry-rubbed ribs come with three sauces, a citrus-y sweet one, a spicy one that also has some sugary notes, and a brown mustard that rings bells when paired with the pork. The ribs themselves are toothsome, not tough but not that falling-off-the-bone that many folks think is perfection but always makes me wonder if they've been steamed. The standard for barbecue in this town has been raised a lot in the last five years or so, but these will hold their own.
Sometimes, though, a hamburger is just what the mouth craves. The house burger arrives with cheese, tomato (a slice of nice red Roma) and lettuce. How rare? they asked. How thick? replied I. About an inch or maybe a little less was the finger-thumb measure. Medium-rare, please. Mixed results, technically: The very faintest trace of pink here and there - but astoundingly moist, and it certainly wasn't the tomato, because Romas are notoriously unjuicy. Proprietor Lassaad Jeliti says the beef is about 90% lean, and it was wonderfully flavorful, but the trick in keeping it moist was impressive. And frankly, I'm more concerned about how it tastes than what color the interior is. And a dab of that smoky salsa on one bitewas a nice experiment .
Not much rummaging around with the sides for me. The beans here are Great Northerns that are baked and turn out intriguingly different and yet quite recognizable. Another example of a flavor one never thinks about until its surroundings are changed some, but a dish worth seeking out. Fries are fresh, long strips of baking potatoes tossed with a light hit of coarse salt, looking almost like long strips of pretzel where the dark skin and the salt meet.
Hard to pass up the caipirinha on the blackboard menu of drinks, but I don't navigate Gravois other than fully alert.
Spare No Rib
2200 Gravois Ave.
Lunch and Dinner Mon.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Poor
Tacos, etc.: $3-$13
Right from the start, let's be clear: I am of the generation "Jersey Boys" is aimed at. KXOK poured out the music from all those male quartets, and at the time, it was hard to differentiate between the Four Seasons, the group whose story the musical is based on, and many others. Falsetto singers weren't hard to come by - but Frankie Valli, the Four Seasons' lead and eventual solo artist, came to be preeminent.
This was the background music to many lives. And coming to St. Louis as it does just a couple of weeks after the excellent Beatles tribute on CBS, "Jersey Boys" shows another part of that pivotal point in American music, one the old style and another the new. Each influenced the other, no question about it, but it's pleasant to ruminate upon.
Happily, "Jersey Boys" is way more than just an arbitrary story made by patching together the lyrics of [INSERT NAME OF ANY GROUP HERE], unlike some other shows. None of the guys involved would have considered themselves artists in the proper sense of the word when they began, but artistic temperaments seemed to have existed, and when that's crossed with young (and less young) male testosterone and Italian neighborhood loyalties out of their childhoods, it's naive not to expect waters being roiled. (It's also naive not to expect language to match, and signs taped to the Fox's front doors warn about that.) A couple of stereotypes - a gay producer, a mobster or two - but basically an interesting story, although it's condensed and apparently eliminates a number of personnel over the years.
The voices sound great, and remind us how much fun this music must have been to sing, at least the first hundred times or so. Hayden Milanes, playing Frankie Valli, nails the falsetto parts without breaking a sweat. (Matinees and February 27, the part will be played by Shaun Taylor-Corbett.) Bob Gaudio, who not only sang with the group but wrote many of the hits, and who had preceeded joining them by writing the novelty song "Who Wears Short Shorts?" at age 15, is Quinn Vanantwerp, another particularly watchable performance. And speaking of the music, pay attention to how the music evolves, both in terms of harmony and setting, going from simple to elaborate.
Offstage, credit has to go to Marshall Brickman, whose first Broadway book this is - but a guy whose credits include writing or co-writing lots of movies like Annie Hall and Manhattan and being head writer for Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett. Also kudos to director Des MacAnuff and the La Jolla Playhouse, a fabulous regional theater who originally developed this show. Hard to imagine the neighborhoods of La Jolla and Jersey coming together in such a felicitous manner.
Lots of folks having a great time. Better for depression than Elavil.
through March 2
Rumors of spring are rumbling around and with that in mind, maybe it's time to be thinking about a road trip. The commercials for Anheuser Busch on the Super Bowl reminded me that a good, and very interesting, time is to be had at their Clydesdale breeding farm.
Known as Warm Springs Ranch, it's about 15 miles west of Columbia off I-70. Like the brewery tour, this is the real thing, not something set up specifically for tourists, although it's shiny-new, unlike our old pal on Pestalozzi Street. They film some of those commercials here, in fact.
Only a couple of miles on hard-surfaced Missouri Highway 98, and passing a farm stand (and pumpkin patch, I found, in October), Warm Springs Ranch is so much the real deal that security is noticeable. Tickets must be purchased in advance. When you arrive, the large red stable is visible from the highway, but the gate is closed and remains so until a few minutes before the time one's ticket is set for.
This is a walking tour, although the ground is level and the distance not far. You probably won't see large numbers of the herd - this is a big property and there are many fields and all have what the website terms "customized walk-in shelters". But there are indeed Clydesdales around, and an opportunity to pet them and get photos with the gentle horses. In fact, getting them used to lots of people is part of what these tours are for.
Yes, colts - we saw the one that was in the 2013 Super Bowl commercial, named Hope, and another irresistible darling only three weeks old. And two of the trailers used for the horses' road trips are there, interesting, too. Much more, as well, including discussion of breeding and veterinary care.
Of course, there's an offer of beer at the end of the tour, unless it's Sunday, when local law puts the kibosh on.
They aren't open year round, but tours begin March 22 this year and run through October. Two tours a a day every day but Wednesday. $10 a head, kids under two free, and cameras are allowed. Reserve in advance via the website.
25270 Highway 98, Boonville, MO
There's something about the long, cold winter that calls for escape - if not to a warm, sunny beach, then somewhere cozy and cosseting without the cost of that plane ticket to Phuket. It's been a time to avoid thinking about traffic jams and school closings and what footing is like on the front walk, but instead focus on something distracting, maybe a little challenging. For some people, that might be Bartok. For people like me, it can be great food, the sort that makes you think, as well as just grunt in pleasure.
And so it was off to Niche for a first visit since their move to Clayton. It's roomy, modernish without being industrial, the acoustics are good and the light is excellent without being glaring. Gerard Craft's kitchen crew works in an open area to the rear - I didn't see the maestro himself the night we were there - and the dining room is in the capable hands of Matt McGuire. (It's an open fact that Pollacks have known McGuires since back in the late Renaissance.)
The Niche style has always been forward-looking, one of the reasons Craft has attracted national attention, and so the newcomer must understand that this isn't your run-of-the-mousse food. Yes, they're serious about local ingredients. But there's technique here that intrigues, innovation that surprises and a balance of flavors that brings to mind the Thai idea of a mixture of sweet, sour, salty and hot. Not Asian seasonings, understand me. But lots of things going on at the same time. It's not quite like Paul Prudhomme's memorable phrase, "Flavors playing pinball in your mouth", it's more subtle, but it's that sort of thing.
We paid too much attention to the snack section of the menu, which meant no dessert, but it was worth it. Kicking things off were coxinha. Don't try pronouncing it. It's Portuguese, the name of a Brazilian dish that's marble-sized nuggets of cream cheese and chicken deep fried and poised in a green mayonnaise tart with sorrel. Pleasant and interesting, but easily the closest to the same old stuff we came all evening. Then came cheese bread, balls of gooeyness, moist, not at all like the Italian restaurant standby, because of the cheese incorporated into the dough, which lent its moistness. It perched on a board with some prosciutto, pickles of several sorts, all housemade, and whipped lardo. Lardo? Looks white, tastes rather like spreadable bacon. Addictive. Then there was the egg. That's all it's called on the menu: Egg. About the top third has been removed with surgical precision. Inside were layers, tender custard flavored with maple, wafer-thin slices of sauteed mushroom and a topping of caviar. I'm always delighted when something that doesn't sound so great is a pleasure, and that's what this is. The maple was definitely there but not more than a whisper of sweetness, the caviar a little salty, the mushroom more texture and a faint deep note of woodsiness.
Unbidden, some tea arrived. Tea? Proper tea cups, shallow-bowled, with a thin, glistening slice of lemon in the bottom. "There's some bacon grease in there," cheerfully announced our server, and then poured pale oak-steeped hot water. Smoky, woody, slight notes of acidity, fruit and salt - it was the liquid equivalent of holding cold hands in front of a crackling fire. It may have been the most remarkable thing of the meal. Maybe.
Chicken liver arrived as a napoleon. Using the idea that foie gras is often accompanied by something sweet, the riff begins with a light spreading of strawberry preserves on a crunchy layer that's too thin and brittle to be the brioche mentioned on the menu, continues on with the crunch of peanuts, homage to PB & J, obviously, then the rich, creamy liver mousse under another crisp layer that tastes of celery. Flying-saucer-shaped ravioli nestled in a pork broth, the filling ricotta, and a delicate, transient anise-like flavor of chervil wafting across the tongue.
Somewhere in here arrived a palate cleanser of freezer pops, a twist on sorbet, in tubes the size of an index finger and arriving in a bowl of lemons and celery. The pops themselves were, of course, flavored with lemon and celery, savory rather than sweet, the crunchy, quickly melting ice adding another element.
Smoked pork, pulled, fork-tender, redolent of hickory, rested on a bed of polenta, glistening leaves of brussels sprouts sprawling next to it, along with a handful of candied pecans and a hazelnut ice cream.
Slices of more-flavorful-than-usual beef tenderloin were paired with chunks of roasted Jerusalem artichoke, chestnut, pear slices and sunflower seed brittle. And the lamb plate featured slices of rare leg, a sort of confit of lamb shoulder, carrots cooked with cumin, a yogurt drizzle and crumbles of carrot cake.
Many of these dishes carry some sweetness with them. All have an element of surprise, the reason this is a journey into the unexpected. It's remarkable food. And the service, while lacking any element of surprise whatever, which is a very good thing, is pleasant and without a hint of condescension. And at these prices - a $95 chef's tasting menu, four courses for $65 - some might be ready for a little Attitude. And speaking of prices, things are also available a la carte, too, no more of prix-fixe as the only options.
This is, quite simply, exciting food. There's nothing ho-hum about it, and I hope it attracts folks who pay attention to what's on their plates and in their mouth.
7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
The remodelled Tony's has now opened for business, and I hear there's some new items on the menu, too. I hope it's still a restaurant for romance, though, as I write here.
If you've got an ear for crisp dialogue, especially that which has a not-infrequently bitchy edge, you'll need to trot down to Stray Dog Theatre's "The Little Dog Laughed". It's certainly an adults-only show, with nudity and a theme of coming to terms with same-sex attraction. Interesting, isn't it, how the mercenary sub-plot alone wouldn't make it unsuitable for kids?
A rising young film actor - one cannot call him a star yet, even by today's loosey-goosey standards - is visiting New York with his agent, a shark in pumps. He calls, as is his habit, an escort service for a visit from a young "nephew". Hilarity ensues, sort of, but hypocrisy makes headlines.
The fact that this Tony-award winning comedy manages to rise above a stereotype or two and remain funny a decade after it was written, despite the progress in American society about human rights, is a tribute to that dialogue. Sarajane Alverson, the agent with a sense of morality that would leave, oh, Anthony Weiner stunned, tries hard to run the life as well as the career of Bradley J. Behrmann's Mitchell, the emerging heartthrob. Mitchell seems pretty far in the closet, and that's the way Diane, the agent, who's a lesbian herself, wants to keep it. But when the cute young thing arrives at the hotel room, there's a spark from both the guys. This despite the fact that the lad, Paul Cereghino, has a sort-of semi-ex-girlfriend, Paige Hackworth, a refugee from her affluent family in Westchester County.
Alverson has a fine sense of timing with her cracking wise, and occasionally reveals the wisps of humanity Diane lets slip. Behrmann doesn't leave us with much sense of how good an actor the character is, but does very well with showing his deep conflict over his identity. Cereghino shows us a guy at loose ends, planning tomorrow but not next week or the rest of his life, and Hackworth gets good laughs with her monologue about her mother and a scene with the invisible landlord. The two-story rather geometrical set by Rob Lippert works well, and helps with several monologues.
"The Little Dog Laughs" certainly asks serious questions about private lives becoming public. Perhaps we can laugh a little more freely now that some of those questions are getting answered. Not a serious night, to be sure, but quite a funny one.
The Little Dog Laughed
Stray Dog Theatre
Tower Grove Abbey
2336 Tennessee Ave.
Thurs.-Sat. through Feb 22
Last weekend, when "Forget Me Not" opened at the Upstream Theater, it had just been announced that Missouri senator Claire McCaskill proposed introducing a resolution to urge Ireland to open the records for adoptees in that country. Presumably given impetus by the movie "Philomena" which is based on an Irish woman's search for her relinquished child, such a resolution would, of course, have no legal effect on the laws of another sovereign nation.
It was sheer coincidence that "Forget Me Not" is about an Australian man who was taken from his mother, in this case in England, and shipped off to Australia. And not to a welcoming home but to a large farm with barracks for the kids who were brought in en masse to labor. Now a man in late middle age, Jerry Vogel's Gerry Connor is a volatile, frequently angry alcoholic who lives with his grown daughter, Sally, who's played by Maggie Conroy. She's found an agency that might reconnect him with whatever birth family remains. To say he resists the patient conversations of Terry Meddows' social worker is to understate things.
And his mother is not dead, despite what he thinks he was told. Mum is Donna Weinsting. That completes the cast, and if you have any doubt about the depth of the local pool of actors, come see this show. Vogel's talent has been growing ever since I first saw him more than a decade ago. Terry Meddows, a superb chameleon, is always hard to take one's eyes off of. Donna Weinsting's comedic talents are so good that it's always a pleasant shock to see her grab a serious role like this and absolutely own it. And Maggie Conroy more than holds her own in this crowd - you can almost see her arms shake as she resists the urge to have at her argumentative, foul-mouthed father.
I should reveal some personal perspective here: I was adopted as an infant. I've known many adoptees, including one who was one of the Irish babies. I also worked at a home for unwed mothers, as the phrase went back then. I am not convinced the play is more powerful for us than for other folks, though - one of the great gifts of theater is that it has folks walking a mile in someone else's shoes.
Part of that here is the unspoken message about how our views of extramarital pregnancy have changed in the last sixty years or so. I wondered if the young in the audience understood why children were taken from their mothers or why young women were whisked off to "boarding school" or "her aunt in Birmingham" or even more dangerous consequences, whether by purple-faced parents or their own sense of shame.
Playwright Tom Holloway doesn't do any direct finger-pointing, but it would be superfluous. This pain multiplied literally thousands of time is quite sufficient - although the program note with a quote from a bishop clearly indicating the desire to continue the white supremacy in the nation is, alas, deeply relevant as to motive.
A remarkable ensemble working together seamlessly, a strong script - it's a good evening of theater. And Senator McCaskill? Could you please put your weight behind legislation in the state of Missouri to open the tighter-than-nearly-any-other-state regulations here?
Forget Me Not
The Kranzberg Arts Center
501 N. Grand Ave.
through Feb. 16
It's totally by accident that this series of posts have turned things into Carbohydrate Parade. But some things are, as I've said, too good not to share. If you're a serious baker, or want to be, here's something to make sure you attend. Simone Faure of la Patisserie Chouquette is beginning to give classes on how to recreate the glorious jewels she creates. And she's branching out, too - note the discussion on getting kids in the kitchen, too.
I strongly suspect these aren't the sort of classes where it's an excuse to start gabbling with one's buddies while the teacher is speaking, one of my pet peeves. Go. Concentrate. Enjoy the coffee bar. But save the gossip for afterwards.
Not every dessert need to be elaborate. I grew up in a world where my mother, of the Rosie-the-Riveter generation, and her friends, all teachers, valued things like a one-bowl cake and the much-vaunted wacky cake. Pies and layer cakes were for special occasions or left to grandmothers who didn't work five days a week. These days, there's more expectation of A Production when it comes to dessert - but that's just another reason to admire Nigella Lawson who somewhere in one of her books has a photo of a platter of brownies piled in a mound, showered with powdered sugar and studded with long, slender candles for a different take on a birthday cake.
This cake isn't quite that dramatic, but it could be. It's a little more work than a pan of brownies, but not much. I found it on Food 52, one of my favorite food-obsessed websites, where it's very popular. Named for an Italian woman from Chianti who showed a reader how to make it, it's a simple one-layer cake that needs nothing, although a drift of powdered sugar or some fruit alongside are lily-gilding possibilities. It's moist, interestingly flavored and textured, and quite craveable. Not terribly sweet, it's a good breakfast cake, too.
The recipe calls for a 9- or 10- inch springform pan. Don't use a 9-inch layer cake pan for this - it almost certainly won't be deep enough if you use all the batter. I used a 10-inch springform, which was fine. Next time, I will line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper so I can slide the cake onto a covered cake plate. The recipe calls for one apple - I used part of a Granny Smith and part of a Fuji because that's what I had on hand. You can grate them in the processor using light pressure or on a box grater's largest holes. If you worry about them browning, and I did, stir them into the ricotta - and by the way, supermarket ricotta worked fine here. If you do that, it's easiest to toss the grated lemon zest into that as well. I also whisked together the dry ingredients, even though the recipe didn't call for it, just because that's my habit.
The recipe originally called for 25 to 30 minutes of baking. Like a great many of the readers who wrote in, mine took longer even though the 10-inch pan makes for a shallower cake, which theoretically should bake faster than a 9-inch pan's contents. I went 38 minutes and it perhaps could have gone a little longer. To my eye, it looks like a cheesecake, that same golden-ness and shape. But it's its own beast and a lovely one at that.
9 Tbs. unsalted butter (1 stick plus 1 Tbs.) , room temperature
1 c. plus 2 Tbs. sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 c. flour
1 Tbs baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 c. ricotta cheese
zest of 1 lemon
1 apple, peeled and grated to give about 1 cup
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 or 10-inch springform pan. Optional: Line the base of the pan with parchment or waxed paper. Put the flour, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl and whisk to mix. In another bowl, stir together the ricotta, apple and lemon zest.
Cream the butter and sugar in a standing mixer until light and fluffy. Drop the beater speed to the lowest possible and add the eggs, one at a time. Scrape the bowl as needed throughout this. Add a third of the flour mixture (you can be casual about this and eyeball it). When it's fairly thoroughly mixed in, add half the ricotta mixture. Add another third of the flour, mix in, add the rest of the ricotta, and then the last of the flour.
Scrape into the prepared pan, smooth the top (moistened fingers may be the preferred tool for this) and bake for 35-40 minutes. The cake should be golden and the sides pulling away from the pan.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes , loosen the sides with a knife and remove the sides. Leave on the bottom if you want to keep it that way, or slide onto the rack if you've used the wax paper, or even invert it, although I think that top's too handsome to have wire marks on.
Serves 6, but as usual, who knows?
Virtue is all very well and good, of course. But sometimes virtuous eating falls totally, utterly, by the wayside and into a very deep culvert.
Lured by a taste of a friend's dessert last week, I stopped by Cravings in Webster Groves for a single-item lunch: the caramel apple galette. And, yes, I had been right. This is a splendid piece of work. The pastry is fabulous, tender and crumbly, what the British cookery books refer to as "short". And happily, the filling lives up to the crust. Thin slices of tart apple rest on what seems to be an apple confit, adding some chew and some softness to the crunch of the pastry. Topped with a generous dollop of softly whipped cream, possibly enlivened with a little creme fraiche, its coolness an offset to the heat of the galette - which is baked to order, from all appearances - it's a delight.
It is, of course, available with ice cream, but that's a combination I see no sense in, especially when the pie or near-relative is served warm. The frozen ice cream takes too much of the warmth away and the melted ice cream is antithetical to keeping good pie crust at its proper texture.
The photo is unmistakably just part of the galette. Owner Tim Brennan stopped by to chat for a while just before the galette was delivered from the kitchen, and I wasn't about to let it get cold. Tim tells me he's using Granny Smith apples right now, occasionally Fujis, but when local apples are in season, that's his go-to supply.
8149 Big Bend Blvd., Webster Groves
Lunch Tues.-Sat., Dinner Fri.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Sharr White's "The Other Place" will surely end up as a film with Meryl Streep as the lead. Do not wait until then to go see it. Director Rob Ruggerio's version at the Studio Theatre at Rep is too significant, too intimate to miss.
Juliana Smithton is a brilliant PhD in mid-life, doing important research on proteins in the brain that mis-replicate. Now she's with a pharmaceutical company, speaking to physicians about a drug she created to offset the brain degradation that results from the protein problem. But something is wrong - that's clear from the start. Next, we see her in a physician's office, angry, defensive, almost paranoid, complaining that her physician-husband whom she's divorcing has insisted on this unnecessary consultation after what she insists on calling "an episode" at the medical conference.
She has a strong history of brain cancer in her family, and is sure that's what caused this episode; why is her oncologist spouse sending her to someone else? (Interestingly, no one mentions that treating members of one's own family is a fairly strong taboo in medical circles.) The marriage is falling apart; their adolescent daughter disappeared years ago, perhaps running off with her post-doctoral fellow in the lab and she is sure her husband is having at least one affair.
No plot spoilers from me beyond this point; better to get caught up in the back-and-forth net of life and diagnosis that, even if the early discussion of things like ribonucleic acid are
confusing, lure us in. And it's here, too, that I should disclose that I was a nurse for umpty-ump decades, a fair amount of which was specializing in oncology.
Kate Levy, playing Juliana, is about as right as it's possible to be. Smart, high-verbal and bouncing off the walls, her personality shifts are, almost literally, mesmerizing. Ward Duffy gives her husband warmth along with his anger at his wife's behavior, which has been becoming increasingly volatile over the past several years. Their daughter, the other physician and a neighbor are the work of Amelia McClain, who differentiates well among them. Clark Scott Michael appears briefly but competently as the post-doc and a nurse.
A wonderful set by Luke Hegel-Cantarella is mostly post-modern but slides into traditional for a couple of significant scenes, and the lighting of John Lasiter enhances all. The sole weakness is the script sliding into a soft landing that doesn't feel nearly transient enough. Aside from that, Ruggerio's work is up to his usual splendid standards.
The Other Place
through Feb. 9
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
The angled southeast corner of Euclid and McPherson had long been a perpetually dusty and smudged collection of windows, holding back a bursting collection of seemingly haphazard elderly furniture. To sit at the bar of Gringo, gaze out the now-sparkling windows at street life and try to integrate that setting with what used to be there is nigh impossible. But a round of the Gringo Margaritas helps.
Late lunch is quiet at Gringo, but evenings are energetic and noisy, feeding folks who are eager to try chow that isn't really Tex-Mex but...well, let's call it Nex-Mex, next to Mexican but not actially of it. Carey McDowell, late of Winslow's Home, has revamped the menu some, removing the grasshopper tacos and introducing his own touches, including the brisket for which he has become known. Like the decor, which stays far away from the sombrero syndrome, the food is distinctly modern.
A strong opening recommendation for the guacamole, made tableside and seasoned as you prefer, plenty of queries from the server as they bash up the two avocados. Yes, two whole aguacate, a light hit of jalapeno, onion, salt and pepper and other things and then the query of smooth or chunky. Saying yes to everything worked to produce a tasty result. The generous serving would make a fine solo lunch. Chips and salsa at the start of the meal do pretty well, the salsa smoky from some chipotle, the chips thin and fresh. Another endorsement for the posole, the rich porky soup with cumin and Mexican oregano, studded with stir-ins of chopped onion and thinly sliced radishes. The only non-classic note about this traditional dish is that instead of cabbage tossed in at the last minute, there was lettuce, which wilts too quickly to give the crunch that cabbage would deliver.
More modern in their approach are most of their tacos. Not the tacos of Cherokee Street nor the drive-thru, these guys vary not only in their primary protein filling but in their toppings too. The aforementioned brisket wears a dab of guacamole and a spoonful of pickled chopped vegetables, whereas the surprisingly tender grilled octopus rides on a swoosh of refried black beans and a citrus salsa, a particularly tasty combination. Barbacoa, here done with lamb, is (very) lightly smoked, crisped up on a griddle and served with a drizzle of sour-cream-like crema and some pickled onion.Tinga, the chicken filling is a braise in roasted tomato, garlic and chipotle, the latter a smoked pepper that seems to be a favorite here, and there's even a Gringo taco. Yes, that's what they call the crisp taco filled with ground beef, lettuce, fresh tomato and cheese. Still, better than Taco Tootsie's, or whatever fast food comparison one can offer. What was surprising, though, was that the tortillas, described as housemade. Every one consumed that hadn't been in the fryer was dry at the edges.
Bigger chunks of the brisket are rolled up into enchiladas. This beef, though, had a sweetness about it that was surprising and a little disconcerting. The pickled onions and radishes atop the cheese and the roasted tomato-chile sauce were spicy and crunchy, a nice contrast. Very flavorful pinto beans with lots of juice rode one end of the plate; on the other a tomato- and cumin-seasoned rice, wasn't overcooked and mushy but lacked excitement. The creamy refried black beans, available as a side dish, full of deep and mysterious flavors - and I'm guessing they included some fat from our friend the pig - were kept from perfection by oversalting, alas. Still, darned tasty.
Gringo's flan is not the rubbery caramel-sauced slab that one often finds under that name. While the flavor varies at the whim of the kitchen - this one was made with grated coconut - it's essentially a French-style custard that's been brulee'd. The bits of coconut, which floated to the top of the egg mixture, made for a nice texture with the crunchiness of the sugar glaze, an unexpected prize at the end fo a meal.
And about those margaritas - plenty of options. The house, or Gringo marg was served in a tall glass, and while it's described as being "on tap" it didn't taste of bottled mix. Senor de Oaxaca with a smoky tequila and hellfire bitters (which I suspect are housemade as well), ran in another direction, intriguing and sultry, definitely for sipping, not gulping.
Pleasant, knowledgeable service - although pray tell me why checks are starting to appear unrequested without so much as an offer of dessert?
398 N. Euclid Ave.
Lunch & Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair
Tacos and Entrees: $3-$14
It's a combination of a restaurant supply house and a warehouse store that's aimed solely at food. No entrance fee and great browsing. You can read about GFS Marketplace here.
For those whose view of Arthur Miller doesn't go much beyond Death of a Salesman and his fabled marriage to Marilyn Monroe, let us offer The Ride Down Mount Morgan. St. Louis Actors' Studio has it on the boards currently, and it's a worthwhile offering.
A study in how hormones make people crazy, it shows us a very successful businessman (has there ever been so much fur per square yard on a local stage before?) who's a bigamist. A friend of mine who's a nurse practitioner and works with young women talks about the adolescent Swept Away phenomenon, responsibility evaporating in the endocrine rush, and that's what's happened to Lyman, it seems. John Pierson's Lyman seems to be a responsible guy - created a big company that shows signs of social awareness, for instance - and is proud of being vigorously healthy and active in his mid-50's. As proof, he's carried off having two families for around ten years, which is when we meet him, immediately after a serious car crash.
Real waiting rooms are often the scene for considerable drama, and that's where the wives, Jen Loui as the Episcopalian matron, iron-clenched jaw and all, and Julie Layton as the younger and need we say sexier second wife, meet. Both these women love him and believe they have good marriages. Lyman believes they were good marriages, too, and why don't they give him credit for that? He made them happy and they made him happy, after all.
Pierson underplays Lyman rather than making him a guy who oozes charm, a good idea on the part of director Bobby Miller. We will, of course, never know if the convictions he argues are real or merely convenient rationalizations he stumbles upon. They don't seem to do a good job convincing either wife, particularly not Amy Loui, the original wife who's come to the hospital with their grown daughter, Bessie, Taylor Steward. Nor do they explain things to his friend and attorney, Eric Dean White, who wants to know how to deal with the tabloid headlines this is causing. Only Fanny Lebbie, the nurse, stays out of the sturm und drang, warmly taking care of her frequently confused patient. A seemingly simple multilevel set from Cristie Johnson and Bess Moynihan's lighting enhance the time leaps and fantasy sequences out of Lyman's post-accident mentation.
But while these are interesting people, they are not ones we find ourselves caring about very much. This is not one of Miller's stronger plays. Still, it raises lots of questions. For instance, pro-life advocates may ponder Lyman's having married the second wife so that she would not abort a pregnancy. Is that a moral or an immoral act? If one does good on a large scale - job creation, reaching out to minority communities - does that give one leeway in one's private life? There's a lot of focusing on "being true to ones self" - is this code for doing what you want to do instead of what you ought to do? Most importantly, where does lying come into this? The Big Lie, of course, that Lyman misses is you can't have it all. And it's those questions, plus the acting, that makes this worthwhile.
As an aside, when this play came to Broadway om 2000, Patrick Stewart played Lyman. Turns out they gave him a wig of beautiful silver hair, perhaps a la Bill Clinton. Clearly someone was a victim of the fallacy that bald men can't be sexy.
The Ride Down Mount Morgan
St. Louis Actors' Studio
through Feb. 2
The Gaslight Theater
358 N. Boyle Ave.
A late-ish visit to Pastaria because I was craving pizza proved a wise move this weekend. It's always fun to sit at the counter and watch the action. (And no cover charge for the live entertainment!) The warmth from the wood-burning oven felt really good, too. But it was the pizza itself that left me beaming.
It was "The Roman" (quotation marks theirs) pizza, tomato, garlic, mozzarella and peccorino, bacon and chilis. I'm comfortable with the fact that these Italian-style ovens, often, as they are at Pastaria,wood-burning, cook pizzas quickly, leaving some char on the crust. That's how it works, and the char, as with barbecue, is a flavor element. In The Roman, the balance of flavors is darn near perfect. The chili comes in here and there, as does the garlic, but it's the fat nuggets of smoky bacon - bacon, I am sure, that is not of a style found in Rome, but who cares about that? - that crown the experience and draw things together.
A first-rate pie.
7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton
Lunch and Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Here we are in midwinter, a time when sunshine and lighthearted things are particularly appreciated. Bundling up and heading out to brunch requires some effort, but sometimes those efforts are amply repaid.
At Oceano in Clayton, most brunch guests gravitate towards the front windows, not surprisingly, and settle in for coffee, mimosas and a long spell of mulling over the menu. It's one of those menus that offer a plethora of alluring choices. And most of them are quite good. A few misses, yes, but not enough to send the brunch to the minor leagues with a good batting coach. Kick things off with first-ratte coffee, always a portent.
On the savory side, beyond the usual Benedict, the Benedict Oscar showcased crabmeat and stamed asparagus along with the eggs and a buttery hollandaise. Omelets, too, had several options. The carnivore in the group headed directly for a combination of ham, bacon, sausage, sweet pepper and cheese, the omelet topped with shards of housemade prosciutto. A garden omelet offered asparagus, roasted shiitake mushrooms, spinach, tomato and ricotta cheese. The sole complaint was that the ricotta, which had a faint tang of horseradish, was a golf-ball-sized lump plopped mid-omelet, leaving the cheese disconcertingly cold in the middle. Otherwise, both omelets were excellent.
More of a surprise was the smoked salmon fritatta. Fritatti are open-face omelets, an Italian treatment of eggs with various fillings. This included spinach and tomato, too. When it arrived, it was perhaps a half-inch thick, unusually thin. But it was drizzled with a cream cheese sauce and chopped capers, giving added tang, and was absolutely delicious, one of the best versions of this I've had. And plaudits, too, to the housemade turkey sausage, links that were extremely moist for a turkey sausage. The only egg dish that fell short were the chilaquiles. Traditionally, corn tortillas are fried until they crisp up and then simmered in a chile sauce and topped with eggs. This was beautiful, a cylinder of the tortilla pieces interspersed with small pieces of chicken. But the tortillas were wheat, despite the menu description of "crispy", they were just occasionally chewy and the sauce was lackluster. The house breakfast potatoes, deepfried chunks with onion and sweet peppers, were the base for a competently fried egg and slices of avocado, and that was fine, but the chilaquiles were far too civilized and "adapted" for what's essentially a home-kitchen dish.
On the sweet side of things, lemon ricotta pancakes were a joy. Incredibly tender, full of lemon flavor that was aided and abetted with a lemony custard sauce, the whole thing topped with fresh blueberries, the proferred syrup and butter were totally unnecessary. It was the sort of dish that produced moans as it was passed around. Bananas Foster french toast used banana-walnut bread that didn't seem to have been battered, just grilled and topped with a brown sugar sauce with a good hand with the rum, and sliced bananas. Lily-gilding was accomplished with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Very rich indeed, to be sure, it suffered from the thck slices of bread's dryness - hard to imagine a banana bread dry, yes, but it was at the sides. (A soak in a custard batter before grilling would have solved that but made the bread more fragile to work with.)
Delightful, patient service with a group who couldn't make up its collective mind for some time. But before coffee, who can?
44 N. Brentwood Blvd., Clayton
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
The Kitchen Sink, the little hole-in-the-wall that began on DeBaliviere just off the Forest Park Expressway, has moved into more genteel quarters on Union - but still a half-block off the expressway. The site, on the ground floor of a prewar apartment building, has held several spots, from high-end dining to sports bars, but still retains the dignity and the columns of its early life. It's airy, with lots of sun from big windows and room between tables.
Alas, no liquor license yet. It's working its way through liquor czar Bob Kraiberg's department - c'mon, Bob, we're counting on you for access to mimosas and bloody Marys here. Because this visit was for morning food.
The Sink doesn't open until 11 a.m., but the breakfast menu is available all day, perfect for those of us who understand that life doesn't necessarily begin when day hasn't even broken yet. (I worked 3-11 p.m. too many years.) The coffee is good, although our server took our cups back to the kitchen for refills rather than bringing the pot out, not a problem but a bit of a surprise.
From the breakfast part of the menu came the Pony Express. A coffee-rubbed small boneless ribeye steak was quite tasty, as thin as a breakfast steak usually is, although it managed to maintain a little pink inside it. Very flavorful, too, without the coffee running roughshod over the beefiness. Scrambled eggs were not cooked to rubberiness and the tater tots had been well-drained, so no excess greasiness.
Not listed in the breakfast section was (?were?) the chicken and waffles. The Kitchen Sink's take on this piles fried chicken wings atop a large, very tender waffle. The wings are very lightly breaded and equally greaseless, the seasoning with some black pepper bouncing around, a nice contrast with any syrup that happened their way. The syrup in question wasn't real maple, but it was sufficiently thick, not the watery stuff that waffles and pancakes soak up immediately.
It's difficult to go to The Kitchen Sink and not succumb to one of their hamburgers or some of their Creole specialties, but next visit, I think I have to try their take on shepherd's pie, called humble pie, cornbread with shrimp, andouille sausage, peppers and onions, topped with mashed sweet potatoes, etouffee sauce and cheddar cheese. Too tempting.
255 Union Blvd.
Lunch and Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair
As St. Louis welcomes a new food writer at the Post-Dispatch, Daniel Neman (tell us how you pronounce that, Dan), the brave guy wades right into the whole provel question. Maybe you have to grow up with it, as I write about it in St. Louis Magazine. Folks are right about the meatloaf at Riverbend, of course, and we promise you a fair hearing on Cincinnati-style chili. (If you like chili mac at Steak 'n Shake, an underappreciated menu item, you may be up for Cincinnati style, readers.)
Yup. There may be an Imo's gene. Washington University researchers, here's a project for you.
Joe Hanrahan has run another of his one-man shows up the flagpole. Should we salute again?
He's offering "Solemn Mockeries" at Tower Grove Abbey, a new play about an 18th Century forger. Not too promising a subject? Oh, please. Con men are almost inevitably fascinating, and given Hanrahan's ability to inhabit his characters, the audience has a good chance of being drawn in.
William Henry Ireland - who really existed - has taken to the stage to explain the folly of his youth when he forged Shakespeare's signature, and then longer pieces attributed to the Bard. Wearing an exquisitely shabby coat and in moderate dishabille, Hanrahan, who surely has the largest cowlick of any actor working in St. Louis currently, makes his case with all the earnest modesty that surely helped Ireland along his road to peridtion.
One guy onstage, helped by several people like Taylor Steward, who created the costume, Krista Tettaton, who pulled out all the carefully chosen props like the "courting chair" that keep things simple but right, and Tyler Duenow's lighting. Uncredited is the frock-coated gent who strolls out to change and flourish the hand-lettered signs that begin each of the two acts, but who I suspect is Tyler Linke, the stage manager. No dialogue, but he gets laughs.
The play, by Rick Creese, loses a certain amount of momentum in the second act, that not-uncommon problem in so many works. And perhaps the author is a little too Freudian in blaming Ireland's malfeasance on his relationship with his father. Still, especially for history buffs, it's a worthwhile evening. And frankly, with Hanrahan, it's always a good gamble to see what he's been working on.
through January 18, 2014
Tower Grove Abbey
Surely you've come across, at the bottom of your check after a meal, those pre-figured percentages for suggested tips. The first time I saw it, I figured it was a nudge at foreign tourists who often don't know how the American system works. But then it began popping up at places I wouldn't have expected it.
Many of the food sites have in this past week talked about what's happening to the so-called mandatory gratuity as of January 1. Here's the scoop on that.
I mostly managed to miss the first cocktail era, when the Don Drapers were in full swing. As a teenager, I learned that Jacqueline Kennedy's cocktail request from the White House butler was a daquiri, and that stuck in my mind and (as it was easier in those years of permed hair and armor-like undergarments to pass as being of age) occasionally popped out of my mouth if the occasion required some sort of a drink. This was long before frozen and strawberry daquiris and their ilk appeared, of course, and bartenders knew how to make them the way they knew about old fashioneds (Bess Truman's drink of choice, I understand) and Rob Roys.
But those weren't drinks you had in the world I came to live in. The men around me drank things like 1843 whiskey and club soda or, unfortunately 7 & 7, Seagram's and 7-Up. This did not require any skill as a hostess, just ice cubes and ingredients.
The world changed, I began to discover wine, and time passed. This year, I found myself with adult family coming to visit, family that did like a drink before or with or after dinner. And the New York Times food section came to the rescue. I stuck this in the freezer:
48 oz (= 6 c.) Cran-Tangerine Drink (from Ocean Spray, found it at Diergergs but not at my Schnucks)
6 oz (= 3/4 c.) frozen orange juice concentrate, defrosted
2 c. vodka
Mix in a freezer-proof container and freeze for at least 5 hours. Depending on how cold your freezer is, you'll have a mixture that is partly frozen or the whole thing is the texture of a coarse granita, slush.
The flavor is relatively un-sweet, a slight bitterness to it. The Times titled it a Red Rooster, but don't go expecting Christmas red. Its color is a drab apricot. But it was a big hit, and it spoons nicely into a martini glass. (And I hope you're using those glasses only for gin or vodka and a little vermouth, otherwise. But that's another rant.)
It's an adventure just finding the restaurant named Element. Between Lafayette Square and Soulard, it sounds easy enough. But itt's off a sidestreet, not possessed of much signage, and in one of several sort-of-similar buildings. Whether you've been around these parts long enough to say it's behind the old City Hospital #1 or if you're a newcomer and describe it as being north of the Georgian condominiums, it's still tricky. I'd scouted the location out in the daylight before this visit for dinner, and on the dark and stormy night of dinner, it proved a wise move.
It's in City #1's old power plant, the building also holding a climbing gym. Be patient with the twists and turns of getting into the parcel of land on which it (and Palladium, the event facility in another nearby building) rests. The restaurant itself is on the second floor via a winding corridor with windows onto the climbing walls. The third floor holds the restaurant's lounge, often closed, as it was this night, for private functions. (Per the website, it's never open on Saturdays.) Element's dining area is L-shaped, thanks to an open kitchen and serving area which provide live entertainment for the diner, although there are also televisions spread around, sound off and hockey games flashing. The feeling is very industrial, lots of straight lines and originalish surfaces of brick and metal. That, of course, raises the noise level, but that's no surprise these days.
The overall impression is casual. So it comes as a bit of a surprise when it's announced that bread and butter service - their phrase - is $3. Gael Greene wrote about the high-end restaurants fifty years ago in New York - think Forum of the Twelve Caesars - charging for it, the charge appearing unannounced on final bills, but it's still a surprise (but not unknown) in St. Louis. What it brought was a half-loaf of a decent baguette, warm, thinly sliced almost all the way through, and a ramekin of honey butter.
Small and large are how the menu delineates items. All come on very large plates, picture frames, as it were, for the exquisite presentations of food. Probably because of that presentation, the smalls seem larger than anticipated and the large appear smaller. Pork belly, two unctuous strips carefully browned, were accompanied by a spiced French prune jam, a solo prune, apple slices and walnuts and a little blue cheese, a nice contrast of textures, spicing and tastes. Roasted marrow bone, with toasted bread from a different sort of loaf than the baguette, had small dice of roasted pear, a shower of Italian parsley and some bacon that, surprisingly, didn't add much but texture to the garnish.
From the large list, arrived what the menu called lamb pot roast. From a French grandmere, perhaps, this would have been a pot roast, but its appearance was too elegant. Three rounds of succulent braised lamb rode rafts of carrrot, little cippolini onion and fingerling potato, the whole anointed gently with a complex reduction of the juices with red wine, a dark mystery of the palate. The other large was thick slices of pork tenderloin, moist, still a little pink. The meat alone was texturally near-perfect but lacking in flavor - until you tried it with a little of the peppercorn chutney or what I think were flash-fried strips of leek or green onion, dressed in a sharp vinaigrette. Then it was properly showcased. Thin slices of sweet potato added more color than dash to the dish, but the braised leek, an unapprecited vegetable in this part of the world, did well, also.
Desserts were the house's take on a Snickers bar and their take on s'mores, plus a cheese plate. Not this time, thanks. An after dinner drink? No cocktail menu, it seems, just give the bartender some hints and let him fix you something. Not this time, thanks.
So the food was good. It was, in fact, very good. But there's something a little out of focus here. The service was pleasant but a little fumbly with a few miscues, but that can be a fixable problem. And, yes, it was noisy, but there are worse in town. It took a few days of reflection to realize the theme of what my discomfort was: There's not enough respect being given to what's on those carefully-arranged plates. Too many television sets - is this a bar and grill? The wood on the tables is handsome with that deep-looking acrylic sealingt, but it's incongruous; they need tablecloths. And the lighting to view those plates is pretty awful - it's enough to read menus with, but sometimes those details we're putting fork to are almost indistinguishable.
There's nothing wrong with casual, but there's a cognitive dissonance here that needs fine-tuning.
1419 Carroll St.
Lunch Tues.-Fri., Dinner Tues.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair
Entrees - er, sorry, "Large": $16-$21
Last year at St. Louis Magazine, one of my colleagues a piece on Christmas food, with his thumbs up/down on several things. I took deep exception to his dislike of mince pie, and parried back with a discussion of my own.
During that Christmastime, I was on the road for family functions in all directions. This year, I'm staying home, and today made the mince pies I spoke of. Perhaps not as pretty as the scallop-edged ones they found a photo of last year, but remarkably tasty.
I've made my own mincemeat sometimes, and other times I've used the commercial sort, although I do try to go beyond the Nonesuch that's usually found in supermarkets. It'll do in a pinch, but I keep my eye out for other kinds throughout the year. One year, I found good stuff at the now-gone Esicar's in Cape Girardeau. This time, I found a jar of British mincemeat, Robertson's, at Global Foods in Kirkwood.
It's seriously good, tart, a little heat to it, very rich. And that's as it should be. Just as a good hamburger should have a proper meat-to-bread ratio, so also should a mince pie. These little guys, which is how I first found them in a church in the heart of downtown Cardiff, Wales, cheering weary shoppers, are two-bite pies, and the texture of the crust is almost as important as the mincemeat. It's the usual size in Great Britain.
I just use cupcake pans and a biscuit cutter to make rounds that fit into the tins. The amount of mincemeat I spoon in might be, in my pans, a generous tablespoon.
Here's the recipe for the dough. It's very forgiving, essentially a shortbread that you roll out. I can see it small rounds cut out and baked flat (or in the cups) with no filling and lemon curd piped in, or maybe a mousse of some sort.
1 3/4 c. flour
6 Tbs. powdered sugar
2 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch or so pieces
1 egg yolk
2 Tbs orange juice and perhaps a little more
Glaze: another egg, beaten
Whiz the flour, powdered sugar and orange peel in the food processor until mixed. Add the cold butter. Process until it looks like coarse cornmeal. Whisk together the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons orange juice in a small bowl or cup and add to processor. Blend until moist clumps form, adding more juice by teaspoonsful if it seems dry.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Gather dough into a ball and flatten firmly into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes or so. (Longer is okay, but you'll need to let it get closer to room temperature to work with it.) Roll it out so it's about 17 inches across. If you need to patch it, you can. If your cupcake pan has 12 spots, start out by cutting 12 rounds from the dough and press them into the pan. Add the mincemeat to each round. Then I use a wee star cutter to cut out something for the top of the tart, but you may use whatever's around that fits, even a thimble. It's nice to let the filling show through. Brush each topping with a little of the beaten egg. If you don't have a brush that small, I've used my fingertip before.
Start baking that pan - set the timer for 18 minutes - and begin the same process with your next pan. Check the first pan, and continue baking if necessary until the top is a golden brown. (My times have gone from 18 minutes to 25.) You may gather the scraps and re-roll the dough with a very minimal loss of texture.
I've gotten anywhere from 18 to 24 pies out of this, depending on what I run out of first, the mincemeat or the dough. (The Robertson's gave me 18.)
Two more restaurants in the French Quarter to discuss briefly. One is Deanie's, new to the Quarter but not new to the city. They've been on the Lakefront, a neighborhood known as Bucktown, but now officially part of Metarie, and now are in the Quarter as well, just up the street from the Acme-Felix's faceoff. It's a block beyond the craziness of Bourbon Street, and on the night of our visit a little observation and, yes, eavesdropping, gave the idea that a lot of the patrons are local. It's surpringly large, glossy modern in the style of a streamlined diner.
A very light meal, indeed, by the usual standards, but quite tasty. An appetizer serving of the old New Orleans standard barbecued shrimp, was a half-dozen large shrimp. Traditionally served in the shell with the head attached, their butter-based sauce packed with seasonings, these guys were first rate. I personally prefer to shell them, which often isn't done by the locals, but I am delighted to follow the old crawfish instructions, which apply here, too: "You got to suck dey haids." The fat-enriched tissue there is the essence of the dish, and worth plowing ahead. Jonathan Swift wrote about how bold it was for the first man to eat an oyster, and this calls for the same amount of derring-do, but only the first time.
Yes, the sauce is swabbed at with pieces of bread, but Deanie's has an interesting variation of that. Instead of a bread basket arriving after ordering, another basket arrives, this one containing small new potatoes, perfectly boiled and accompanied by little pots of butter. They're still warm, and nibbleable as it is - the cooking water has crab boil seasoning in it, but when crushed into the shrimp sauce, ah, there's the way to go. Bread comes later.
"Something simple", requested my pal. A lovely piece of grilled tilapia, its mild flavor seasoned up just a little and, of course, with some butter involved as well, worked well, too.
Really good service once they cleared up just who the table belonged to.
No reservations taken.
841 Iberville St., New Orleans
Lunch and Dinner daily
And then there was the Old Coffee Pot. We wrote about it on a previous visit,, and it remains one of my morning standards in the Quarter. This was a late breakfast early in the week, only two other tables for the two ladies working the front of the house. They looked familiar from previous visits, kept the good coffee flowing, including bringing milk instead of the "creamer" provided, and chimed in "Amen" when another table said grace before eating.
The oysters Rockefeller omelet was great, a perfectly done omelet filled with small sauteed oysters and the creamy spinach mixture gently seasoned. The sky-high biscuit was flaky and flavorful. Calas, the rice fritter that dates back maybe a couple of centuries, were denser than I've had there in the past, and rather dryer, but the omelet was such a winner, it made up for it.
When the check for the grace-sayers had been paid, the server brought the receipt, put it down on the table, nodded pleasantly and said, "Have a great holiday and don't forget the reason for the seaosn." And then she planted her feet firmly, squared her shoulders, threw her head back and let out a contralto gospel "Silent Night". Amazing. (And a nice lady to us, as well, and hugged us goodbye But not as amazing as the song.)
My pal was so taken with the visit that she wanted to return, and so we did three days later. We walked through the covered driveway past the door to glance at the patio - and a waitress we hadn't seen the previous visit came out and announced quite firmly, "You can't sit there." We were after another oysters Rockefeller omelet. What arrived did have the oysters and spinach, although the spinach had been ladled over the outside, and the interior had chopped onions and green pepper and cheese, which hadn't been on the previous version (and added nothing). And the coffee was different, not nearly as good.
In addition, the other server, another face we hadn't seen before, was also in a state. Her frame of mind wasn't improved by the request of another table who declined beverages and asked for a pitcher of water instead. When that was delivered, they asked for lemon. A bowl of lemon slices, in fact, which meant they were planning on making lemonade. Servers say this is almost invariably a precursor to a really bad tip. So the atmosphere was dense with disapproval.
We ended up sympathizing with the server who had the frugal drinkers, and jollied them into giving us the cofee with chicory, which is what we'd had the earlier visit, but it was a whole different experience.
Okay, one rough visit in, oh, thirty years of patronizing them. Give it a chance if you haven't.
The Old Coffee Pot
714 St. Peters St., New Orleans
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner daily